Bachmann Victorious in Iowa Straw Poll; Paul Places Second

BY David Chalian  August 13, 2011 at 9:14 PM EST

Rep. Michele Bachmann greets supporters after her victory in the Iowa Straw Poll; NewsHour photo by David Chalian

Rep. Michele Bachmann greets supporters after her victory in the Iowa Straw Poll; NewsHour photo by David Chalian

AMES, Iowa | The race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination shifted into a new gear Saturday as nearly 17,000 Iowa Republican activists converged on this college town to cast a ballot in a presidential straw poll and provide a glimpse into how the battle to take on President Obama is shaping up in this critical first-in-the-nation state.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann took her surging candidacy to a new level by taking first place in the straw poll with 4,823 votes. Texas Rep. Ron Paul came in a very close second with 4,671 votes. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty placed a distant third with 2,293 votes.

“I want to thank the people of Iowa for this tremendous victory. Together we sent a message that we intend to make President Obama a one-term president. The Iowa Straw Poll was a important first step in what will be a long race for the presidency. Now we turn our attention toward winning the Iowa Caucuses and taking our message of reining in wasteful spending, keeping taxes low, growing our economy and creating jobs to the people of New Hampshire, South Carolina and all 50 states,” Bachmann said following the announcement of her victory.

However, Bachmann will have to share some of her spotlight with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who announced his presidential campaign in South Carolina Saturday before continuing on to New Hampshire.

“It is time to get America working again,” Perry said in Charleston, S.C. “That’s why, with the support of my family, and an unwavering belief in the goodness of America, I declare to you today my candidacy for president of the United States.”

As for the straw poll, let’s quickly dispense with all the requisite caveats. The straw poll, put on by the Republican Party of Iowa the year before the Caucuses in competitive cycles, is primarily a party fundraiser. Tickets, which are required to cast a ballot, cost $30 each. The results are non-binding and largely meaningless in their ability to help predict who will win the caucuses next winter.

With more than 1,000 credentialed journalists on the campus of Iowa State University, however, the outsized attention of the straw poll does have an impact. It is widely seen as a test of organizational strength separating the campaigns that can harness resources, generate excitement and appeal, and marshal Iowa Republicans to spend a summer Saturday afternoon traveling to Ames to cast a ballot from those campaigns that cannot.

Pawlenty’s distant third-place showing will raise many questions about what he needs to do to retool his campaign. He spent millions of dollars and singularly focused on campaigning in Iowa for the weeks leading up to the poll in hopes of a stronger showing.

“This is a long process to restore America. We are just beginning and I’m looking forward to a great campaign,” Pawlenty said in a signal that he did not intend to end his bid for the White House due to his lackluster performance here.

Ron Paul garnered more votes this year than Mitt Romney did four years ago when he emerged the winner of the straw poll — yet another sign that he has moved from a fringe candidate to one who can be a complicating factor for the more mainstream Republican candidates here in Iowa.

Perhaps the most significant outcome in Saturday’s results was the total turnout. This year’s nearly 17,000 participants makes the No. 2 turnout in the 30-year history of the event and perhaps can be seen as a sign that the Republican electorate is energized and eager to get involved in choosing a nominee they believe can accomplish their No. 1 goal: making Barack Obama a one-term president.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum placed fourth with 1,657 votes and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain was behind him with 1,456 votes.

Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich did not compete at the straw poll, but their names appeared on the ballot.

Perry plans to complete his early state rollout tour with a debut Hawkeye State stop in Bachmann’s hometown of Waterloo on Sunday.

Ask David Chalian your questions about the 2012 race. For more of our politics coverage, see our politics page.